New Physical Sciences Building officially opens

Gov. Baker attends ribbon-cutting ceremony


(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/ Daily Collegian)

By Abigail Charpentier, News Editor

Elected officials and members of the University of Massachusetts community celebrated the official opening of the new Physical Sciences Building and West Experiment Station and were given tours of the campus facilities.

Although the building has been open and operating since earlier this academic year, the ribbon-cutting ceremony, preceded by remarks from several speakers and Irish music played by local band “The Machine Shop,” was held on the lawn of the Physical Sciences Building on Thursday morning.

After three years of construction, the $101.8 million project was completed. The three-level building has no classrooms, but holds 130 laboratory benches, offices and specialized laboratories for members of the chemistry and physics departments. The 95,000-square-foot PSB and 12,300-square-foot WES has earned Gold Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification.

The state provided $85 million for construction while the UMass Building Authority funded the remaining $16.8 million. Wilson Architects of Boston designed the project and construction was carried out by Whiting-Turner.

Mark Tuominen, associate dean of the College of Natural Sciences and physics professor, welcomed guests and gave a brief history of the West Experiment Station and how it became a part of the new PSB.

“West Experiment Station, formally known as Hatch Experiment Station, was built along North Pleasant Street in 1886 and 1887,” Tuominen said. “Even then, it was forward-looking.”

Originally, WES, one of the oldest laboratory buildings on campus, was meant to be renovated and moved, however, testing showed it was structurally unsound. “Seeing it as a symbol of its roots,” the University decided to save it by merging it with the new PSB.

“The new physical sciences lab is planned to allow research at the highest experimental level, anticipating future directions in research, instruments sensitivity and the latest trends in collaboration, shared resources and indoor environmental quality,” he said. “This new building preserves the memory of the original building, while providing modern state-of-the-art research state space.”

Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy was next to speak, again commenting on the historic WES and what the new structure means for the campus and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

“The dramatic juxtaposition of the historical brick building, the West Experiment Station, with the glimmering new Physical Sciences Building is a timeline of our commitment to learning, discovery and service,” Subbaswamy said. “The Physical Science Building with its promise of increased science, technology, engineering and mathematics research, and talent development in physics and chemistry is the latest example of the campus fulfilling its original land grant mission to Massachusetts.”

Gov. Charlie Baker recalled his first visit to the campus and meeting with Subbaswamy and recognizing the chancellor’s passion and commitment to the Amherst campus of UMass. He then commented on all of the new equipment inside of the building.

“Unless you actually walk through to take a look at it, it’s hard to appreciate and understand how much other stuff comes with it as well,” Baker said. “It’s one thing to create the general infrastructure, which obviously involves significant electronic and a technological capacity, but then when you look at some of the labs and some of the building and some of the rooms that the kids are working in, there’s a staggering amount of equipment that goes into doing the work and the experimentation of the discovery that’s associated with this particular endeavor.”

Baker then shared his experience of touring the new facilities and meeting with students that occurred earlier in the morning.

“When I was talking to those women about what they were up to, the fire the belly that came with it was really meaningful and moving to me,” he said. “I think in some respects, sometimes we forget about the fact that the hard sciences also come with the same kind of jacked up visceral and emotional connection that comes with this stuff that I’m more familiar with, which is the history and lit[erature] stuff.”

After Baker ended his remarks with “Go UMass hockey,” he received a hockey stick signed by all members of the UMass hockey team in honor of the Minutemen reaching the Frozen Four for the first time in program history.

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/ Daily Collegian)

Chemistry professor and Department Head Richard Vachet highlighted the features of the building that “brings chemistry faculty and students 50 years into the future,” including the open design that allows for more collaboration. He also listed some of the projects faculty and students have been working on.

Dean of the College of Natural Sciences Tricia Serio was last in the line of speakers and touched upon how these new facilities will attract the best and brightest to Amherst.

“These stellar scientists have the opportunity to pursue their research programs anywhere in the world, and they’ve chosen to come to do so at UMass because we can offer these unparalleled facilities, support their creativity and innovation and because they have the unique opportunity to engage our outstanding students and stakeholders in these pursuits.” Serio said.

Other speakers at the event included President of the UMass system Martin Meehan, Sen. Jo Comerford, Rep. Mindy Domb and Trustee Mary Burns.

Abigail Charpentier can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @abigailcharp.